On endorsements, conventions, and the GOP primary for Governor

Before I get too far into this I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not criticizing the Walker or Johnson campaigns for seeking and receiving the GOP endorsements last month. They played within the rules of the game, and so did the other campaigns. They did what would help them most and I don't think you can fault them for it.

Now for some tough criticism of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. We are screwing this up. The gubernatorial primary is nasty, bitter and it could have been avoided. We all know that Scott Walker has been the odds-on favorite since 2007, but for all of Scott's hard work he is not entitled to the nomination. When former congressman Mark Neumann entered the race I expressed my hope for a strong and respectful race. Not many people welcomed Mark into the race. Most in the GOP establishment were openly hostile to the idea of a primary challenge and had - until Ron Johnson announced his campaign - urged Neumann to jump to the senate race. The message was essentially: Go away.

Similarly, between the calls for Neumann to switch races, the whole Tommy drama and the emergence of Johnson, the Senate race has been poorly managed. While I am confident that we will have a top-quality candidate, I do think that rather than encouraging all interested candidates we were saying to the public that the two declared candidates stunk. Dave Westlake and Terrence Wall are both decent, honest men who are proud Republicans and deserved better than that.

What does this have to do with the convention? Well, plenty. The purpose of a convention when there is a popular vote primary is to be a giant, GOP love fest. The statewide candidates should each get their chance to make their case to the delegates and the focus should be on beating the Democrats in November - not beating the crap out of each other. The party's endorsement system encourages a more bitter experience, rather than a celebration of the values and principles that bring us together. By removing the competitive endorsement, we can encourage candidates to present their vision and their platform and not tear down their opponent.

The deck was stacked from the beginning in Walker's favor at the convention. From the looks of it, it was essentially a coronation. That bothers me. I'm all for a united party, but not at the expense of looking like we're rubbing it in another Republican's face. We should be having a debate about the importance of limited and effective government and how to balance the legitimate interests of government with individual and economic freedom. That's not what we've got.

The Walker campaign has been erratic with its message and far too reliant on gimmicks instead of talking about results and offering solutions. They have overreacted to some of the stunts by Neumann's campaign and some of Walker's supporters have pushed an attitude of entitlement and infallibility that have turned off many other conservatives.

As I've said, the Neumann campaign has been increasingly negative and misleading. It's unacceptable on many levels. He should be focusing on his record in congress and the fact that, as a business owner, he is the one person in the race that has actually created jobs. Unfortunately he isn't talking about solutions and the Neumann campaign is built almost entirely on stunts like the "rally" outside the DPW convention and the pro-gun event at an airport that Brad talked about earlier.

The opponent - the enemy, if you will - is not your fellow Republican, it's Tom Barrett and the Democrats. Yet here we are with a bloody primary that could be devastating. I think the RPW state convention could have gone a long way to smoothing over the problem. A convention without an endorsement takes away a lot of animosity. There is no focus on turn out of each campaign's people to win the vote and puts the focus on winning in November. I know that a lot of party elders I have talked to think that the endorsement process is what puts butts in the seats, but if that's the only thing you've got to sell the convention we have serious issues with how we connect with our members. Nobody gets an endorsement at Tea Parties, but a heck of a lot of people go to those.

The two candidates I support won the endorsements so I suppose I should be happy, but I'm a lot more worried about the future of the GOP than just winning in 2010. We need campaigns and candidates focused on solutions and bold proposals to solve the debt and entitlement crisis we're facing. I think a convention where we focus on what brings us together as conservatives and not who is more this or the bigger that.

My advice to Walker is to take the high road. Say it's unfortunate that Mark has stooped to this level and set the record straight, don't fire back with both barrels or jump into the gutter with him. Save that for Barrett and the general. That's where your focus should be. For now, start telling us what you're going to do to put the state back on the road to prosperity and drop the brown bag stuff. It was nice the first time, but it's getting a little old. Give us some substance, please.

My advice to Neumann is to shut up about Walker's "flip-flops." The career politician label is legitimate, but be careful, it's very easy to overdo it. Start talking about why you think you are the most qualified to lead a fiscal and economic turnaround. Primaries should not be about tearing the other guy down. You look desperate with your stunts and sound like a jerk sometimes with your criticisms of Walker. It's a shame for someone who used to be so well respected.

I'm not saying that primaries should never be tough or that if we remove convention endorsements it will stop party in-fighting. It won't, but it sure as heck won't make the problem worse and that is exactly what we are doing now.